Bridges in disrepair, underfunded drinking water systems, roads riddled with potholes. President Biden’s next ambitious goal is to fix the nation’s infrastructure, and a new report suggests he has his work cut out for him.
The American Society of Civil Engineers on Wednesday gave U.S. airports, roads, waterways and other systems a C–, reflecting its view that the nation’s infrastructure is in poor to mediocre shape and in dire need of an upgrade.
“A C–, as you might imagine, is not something to be particularly proud of,” said Thomas Smith, the executive director of the professional group. “There’s a great need for improvement.”
After pushing a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief measure, the Biden administration is expected to shift its focus to an infrastructure proposal of a similar magnitude. Improving national infrastructure enough to earn a B grade will require an investment of $2.6 trillion over the next decade, the engineering society said.
The group publishes these reports every four years. Despite the dire warnings, the new one bore some good news: The C– is a slight improvement on the D or D+ the group had awarded since 1998. A D reflects a system in poor condition, and a C means mediocre condition. A B is awarded to a system that is “adequate for now,” and an A to infrastructure in exceptional shape and ready for the future.
Since the last report card in 2017, grades improved incrementally in a handful of categories. Increased federal funding helped lift aviation, inland waterways and ports, for example. Drinking water and energy infrastructure also improved as utilities used resources better and became more resilient, though that might seem hard to believe after the dayslong blackouts in Texas recently.
Still, only two of 17 categories were graded better than a C: America’s ports earned a B– and rail a B. Transit scored worst, earning a D–. The nation’s dams, roads, levees and storm water systems got a D.
Mr. Smith said he was optimistic that lawmakers and the public would back major investments in infrastructure, especially as a barrage of costly disasters exacerbated by climate change have laid bare the general state of disrepair.
“There’s just every reason to be doing this, and I feel like we’re learning so many lessons,” he said.
Shady retirement home and investment schemes have cheated China’s rapidly aging population out of hundreds of millions of dollars, spurring more than a thousand criminal cases in recent years.
In a society that traditionally relied on family members to take care of elderly parents, fraudsters have been able to prey on fears that changing social norms and scarce resources will leave older people bereft, report Alexandra Stevenson and Cao Li for The New York Times.
By 2025, more than 300 million people in China will be 60 or older, according to the Chinese government. By 2050, that number is estimated to rise to half a billion.
China’s now-defunct one child policy and mass migration to big cities, though, mean that there are fewer people to care for this large and vulnerable group. The government provides care only to those with no family, no financial support and no ability to work.
In Yiyang, a retired handyman was so distraught after being swindled that he threw himself into a river last month and drowned, according to state media.
“We have a continuously aging population, and government-funded public services are not enough to look after this population,” said Dong Keyong, a professor at the School of Public Administration and Policy at Renmin University of China in Beijing.
The government has been relying on private sector companies to step in, offering subsidies and tax benefits as encouragement. But the cost of building a nursing home is high, and the rewards are often too low because most people cannot afford high-quality care.
The result has been that some builders have skirted laws that forbid them to accept money from residents before the retirement homes are built by creating side investment products that promise high interest rates and future membership benefits.
One company, Shanghai Da Ai Cheng, raised more than $150 million promising returns of up to 25 percent and a retirement home. Three years after the program started, the project collapsed and more than $81 million had disappeared.
Corporate executives around the country are wrestling with how to reopen offices as the pandemic starts to loosen its grip. Businesses — and many employees — are eager to return to some kind of normal work life, going back to the office, grabbing lunch at their favorite restaurant or stopping for drinks after work. But the world has changed, and many managers and workers alike acknowledge that there are advantages to remote work.
More than 55 percent of people surveyed by the consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers late last year said they would prefer to work remotely at least three days a week after the pandemic recedes, Julie Creswell, Gillian Friedman and Peter Eavis report for The New York Times. But their bosses appear to have somewhat different preferences — 68 percent of employers said they believed employees needed to be in the office at least three days a week to maintain corporate culture.
Salesforce, the software company based in San Francisco, recently earned praise from some people when it said that most of its employees would be able to come into the office one to three days a week — an approach the company described as “flex” — once the pandemic is no longer a public health threat. The company would not say whether it now needed less office space.
But other companies ultimately want all or nearly all employees back for most of the week — and are telling workers that their careers could suffer if they don’t return.
Rapid7, a cybersecurity company based in Boston, will expect workers to come back to the office at least three days a week when it determines that it is safe to do so.
“We really believe that our in-person workplaces foster our culture and our core values,” said Christina Luconi, the company’s chief people officer.
Employees who choose not to return to the office could face professional repercussions, she said.
S&P 500 futures were expecting a rise when markets on Wall Street open later on Wednesday, following a positive day in European and Asian markets. Yields for 10-year Treasury bond were also rising, at 1.44 percent.
Worries about inflation and the easing of central bank support have faded, replaced with rising optimism for an economic recovery following the decisions in several U.S. states to ease restrictions to curb the spread of the virus. In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott said the statewide mask mandate would end on March 10, and then all businesses could operate with no capacity limits.
Similar announcements were made elsewhere. Mississippi ended its mask mandate, restaurants in Massachusetts were allowed to operate without capacity limits, and South Carolina erased its limits on large gatherings. In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said she would ease restrictions on businesses and some rules regarding visits to nursing home residents.
But many large businesses are not ready to drop their rules on masks and social distancing. Target and Macy’s in Texas will continue having customers and employees wear masks, while General Motors and Toyota Motor said workers in the state would continue to wear masks, representatives told Reuters.
Europe and Asia
All major European indexes were gaining on Wednesday, with the Stoxx Europe 600 up 0.4 percent and the FTSE 100 up 0.9 percent.
Automakers were among the big gainers in Europe, with Volkswagen rising 5.2 percent and Renault up 5.9 percent, after analysts gave both companies positive outlooks. Stellantis, the name for the merger of Fiat Chrysler and PSA, said it would aim for a profit margin of 5.5 percent to 7.5 percent, assuming no further significant lockdowns; shares rose 2.3 percent.
Asian markets ended the day higher, with the Shanghai composite in China up 2 percent higher and the Nikkei in Japan gaining 0.5 percent. In Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.8 percent after the government announced the economy grew 3.1 percent in the final quarter of 2020 over the previous quarter; for all 2020, the economy shrank 1.1 percent.
Oil was rising, with futures of West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, up 1.9 percent, to $60.88 barrel, and the global benchmark, Brent crude, also up 1.9 percent to $63.88 a barrel.
The chairman of Rio Tinto, the giant Anglo-Australian mining company, said he would step down after the destruction of two ancient rock shelters in Australia that were sacred to Aboriginal groups. The company blew up the caves in May to get at iron ore underneath them, raising an outcry that caused the chief executive to step down in September.